With much fanfare, transportation planners and local governments applied for the Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) competitive grants program. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood has hailed the program as “an outpouring of creative and innovative transportation project proposals.” But with a staggering $57 billion worth of requests for federal assistance across 1,381 proposals for a program appropriated at $1.5 billion, don’t count on seeing great proposals like the K Street Transitway or a metropolitan-wide 160 station, 1,600 bike DC bikesharing program any time soon. Many transit advocates will be disappointed to find out that few of the projects will come to fruition without meaningful local dollars to back up the proposals.
Based on many local reports, it seems as if federal funds for projects that were submitted before the September 15th TIGER Grant deadline are a forgone conclusion. Of the $57 billion in requests, $5.6 billion were for rail applications, nearly $11 billion for transit systems, and $32 billion for highway infrastructure grants. Selected proposals will be announced as early as January.
The $1.5 billion competive grant program makes up a small fraction of the roughly $46 billion in transportation dollars appropriated in the stimulus bill (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and one of the only pots of money to be spent at the disgression of the Department of Transportation. The rest of the transportation money is expressly earmarked for specific projects by Congress: $30 billion of the $46 billion will go for highway construction.